As the House prepares to return to Capitol Hill to continue talks over government funding, the lower chamber remains at a standstill as GOP leaders seek to appease the demands of hardline conservatives while also presenting a proposed budget that can pass the Democratic-led Senate.
Congress must pass its annual budget before the new fiscal year begins on Oct. 1, or else lawmakers risk a government shutdown. Budget disagreements are typical as both parties fight over spending priorities, with a final deal often not being made until the eleventh hour after a marathon voting session.
Lawmakers must advance 12 individual appropriations bills in each chamber before sending their final product to the president’s desk for approval, setting the stage for an arduous process as House Republicans and Senate Democrats disagree on spending numbers. In recent years, Congress has been able to circumvent dragged-out voting sessions by combining the bill into just one piece of legislation, known as an omnibus, allowing Congress to advance its entire budget with just one vote.
However, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), facing pressure from his right flank due to Republicans’ narrow House majority, has committed to getting the chamber back to regular order — meaning both chambers must hold 12 separate votes.
Currently, the plan is to try and advance the Department of Defense appropriations the week the House gets back into session, according to a source with knowledge of the process and the weekly floor schedule, since most members are on board with the spending level in that bill. Then, before the government runs out of money on Sept. 30, the House is going to try and pass the State-Foriegn Ops appropriation bill and the Homeland Security appropriations bill, according to the source.
The State-Foriegn Ops bill has been scaled back to FY 2016 levels, but this might not be good enough for some hardline members who are adamant about getting spending down to the $1.471 trillion number. And if they attach added policy to bills such as the DHS appropriations where members are calling for border security measures to be included, more cuts will have to come from somewhere.
This has made the process even more complicated in recent weeks as several hardline conservatives have threatened to withhold their support on any spending legislation unless other demands are met.
But the difficulty is there’s not a unified ask from members of the Freedom Caucus, the source said, making it difficult to pin down exactly what they want to be able to vote for appropriations bills.
“Members on our side of the aisle that have their own reasons for why they, you know, have basically dug in against the appropriations, a variety of reasons,” said Rep. Steve Womack (R-AR), a veteran appropriator and chairman of an Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government. “We also know that individual members are making certain demands, whether it’s something about disaster funding or HR 2 or impeachment, you know, take from the menu.”
If Congress can’t pass all 12 of its bills before the end of the month, lawmakers will typically agree to a continuing resolution that allows the government to operate at the same spending levels until a new agreement is made.
Womack, who is one of the 12 “cardinals” in the House, said when the House gets back, he hopes they start negotiating a short-term continuing resolution to ensure the government can stay funded. He wants to see it voted on the second week back in session as opposed to the Sept. 30, right before the government is set to run out of money.
“Job one we go back, we’ve got to find out how we’re going to fund the government on October one,” Womack said. “That’s the near-term challenge for us right now because nothing else matters. If you can’t ensure government funding on October one, so whatever the short-term nature of a CR is, that’s the job. We got to get that done. And we want to put that to bed. We want to put it to bed early. We don’t need this thing happening on September 29 or 30. Okay, it needs to be done.”
But, while he “hopes” the short-term continuing resolution can be voted on soon, he recognizes that because of “the way Congress has been behaving, we won’t get something done until hours before the sands run out of the hourglass” and they’re staring down a real government shutdown.
However, some hard-line conservatives are already ruling that process out, noting they aren’t afraid of enforcing a government shutdown to get the budget passed.
“There must be significant policy reforms and spending cuts included in any CR that I would ever consider supporting. In addition to these qualifications, a short-term extension must be reasonable,” Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-GA) told the Washington Examiner, noting the demands made by the Freedom Caucus must be met in exchange for his support on any spending legislation. “Congress can avoid a government shutdown by passing a responsible spending measure that includes the necessary qualifications that address our border security, judicial system, and military readiness. If there is a shutdown, President Biden and Senate Democrats will be to blame due to their unwillingness to solve these critical issues.”
But, a “clean” continuing resolution would be out of the question, he said.
Meanwhile, other conservatives say they believe a deal can be made on all 12 appropriations bills that include their demands — so long as Republicans remain united. The House so far has passed only one of its appropriations bills.
“I believe a serious Republican conference can pass our 11 appropriation bills with these demands by Sept. 30 and our Republican base overwhelmingly supports it,” Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) said. “If we can’t get the approps bills, then an emergency funding short-term CR can be passed with these demands as well. When a business is going out of business or struggling to stay open, the only type of emergency funding they pass is limited funding.”
Any short-term continuing resolution will have to be bipartisan as it will have to go through a Democratic-controlled Senate and be signed by a Democrat president, so conservatives getting everything they want in the package is not going to happen.
“What we’ve got to do is we got to figure out what it is on a continuing resolution, short-term CR, what it can be, what you need to put on it in order to attract a sufficient number of votes for it to become law,” Womack said. “… If we put HR 2 on it, and then it dooms it because Democrats aren’t gonna support that. But maybe there are some provisions in HR 2 that could go on it. Maybe not all of the provisions, but somewhere we could get bipartisan agreement on because that’s an issue that’s not going away.”
There may be a shift in how those conversations play out once members return to the hill, other lawmakers say, noting that recent demands may be a result of conversations with constituents during the recess period.
“Having a narrow majority, everybody’s a Joe Manchin, right?” said Rep. Dave Joyce (R-OH). “A lot of this stuff comes up, unfortunately, when folks are away on vacation because they’re caught in, you know, their local chambers or they’re talking to folks. And when they get back and see everybody’s in the same room, that adds a little bit of a different flavor to it.”
Joyce said his top priority would be to push all 12 appropriations bills through the lower chamber before the higher chamber but noted he would support a short-term continuing resolution if enough progress is made before the deadline.
But even after the House gets all 12 appropriations bills through, whatever comes out the other end of conference committee with the Senate is going to look much different and probably unappealing to many of the hardline conservative members who want something that’s perfect.
“In the old days, you would get your bill through so you could get to conference,” Womack said. “But I think too many people now, too many individuals, don’t truly understand or appreciate the appropriations process designed by our framers. They want something perfect from the get-go. … I think what we’ve got to do is we got to restore the appropriations process, respect it, and go do a conference committee so that we can hash out our differences and get as much bipartisanship as we can because that’s the only way this stuff is gonna make it into law.”